For some, the A2 is a religion and the GTI 16V is their prophet. Being that it’s the Christian Sabbath today (observed, at least – forget for a moment that it’s supposed to be Saturday!) I thought I’d take a look at a chosen few. The other meaning of sabbath, interestingly, is a meeting of witches with the Devil at midnight. Perhaps that’s more appropriate for these hot hatches, all of whom have a slightly evil temper and love mischief? Regardless, in the wake of the Rallye-inspired Golf this interesting trio of what were once original GTI 16Vs popped up, and all are worthy of a look. They range from mild to wild both in terms of mods and price. Are any of them winners?
I owned an A1 GTI once. It was one of the worst automotive decisions I’ve ever made. This comes from a man who bought a non-running Audi 200 Avant full of bees in a field in New Hampshire, mind you.
Back in 1998, I bought a non-running, rusty and very tired black over blue 1984 example for $300. I had every intention of “restoring” it to back good condition, but I was 21 and a poor college student and it was 14. But it wasn’t the age (or the mileage, Indiana), it was how it had been treated in that 14 years. After all, my current Passat is 17 years old and while it’s not perfect, it’s pretty damn nice. Heck, my M3 is 16 years old and basically looks and drives new. No, age was much harder on the cars of the early 1980s; plastics weren’t as durable as they are now, nor was paint. Metal was more rust prone and the electronics were no where near as reliable even though there were so far fewer in the car. To back my GTi up, you could simply look through the crease in the bodywork between the taillights and the rear floor where there was no longer metal. Every single bushing was gone, and what was left vibrated like an unattended paint shaker at Home Depot set to high. The paint was ruined – the car had clearly been hit at some point, so the passenger door and fender were a different shade of black than the rest of the car, which could more be described as dark gray spread very thinly over light gray primer. One time it started itself, which was a bit scary. Another time, it refused to start because the starter had removed itself from the transmission, but only enough to jam the gear into the flywheel. Then one fateful night one a ride home from a late shift at work, the fuse box lit on fire, consuming the functionality of all electrics save the high beams. I had sunk a few thousand dollars into keeping that car running and improving it over the year and a half I drove it. Ultimately I sold it for parts – for $300.
I won’t over romanticize my life with a GTI. I was not sad to see it go. I don’t wish I had it back – in fact, it may be the only car I owned that I never long to sit in again. Indeed, I even have more connection to a few parts cars that I bought but never drove. But, I will say that it did provide me with some entertaining stories. And when it ran right (there were at least two times), it was really a joy to be behind the wheel. There were glimpses of its former glory; you could get in, start it up and immediately be driving at 11/10ths everywhere you went. 40 m.p.h. has only felt near as exhilarating on my bicycle. And the shape was beautiful in such a strange, boxy way. I certainly wouldn’t mind owning a GTI (again), and every time I see one pop up I take notice:
When I was young, my family traveled out to Michigan. The year was 1984, and on the trip we went to see some vintage car racing as my father is a pretty big Shelby nut. There were plenty of Cobras and GT350s ripping up the track with V8s bellowing away that day, but what stuck in my mind more was a demonstration that was put on by Volkswagen of America. There were 5 or 6 then-new GTis that were put through their paces, and the particular corner we were sitting at had the train of these hot hatches popping over curbs, dangling a wheel in the air as they slithered through the corners. Sounding more like a pack of angry hornets, they made more of an impression on me than the rumbling Ferrari-killers, and to this day I still smile and think of that day every time I see a GTi. More than once in my ownership of a 1984 example, I even tried to imagine the train of GTis racing around that course on my daily commute to school to the chagrin of all of the other drivers on the road. But the best way to contemplate that magical day in my memory is to check out a race-ready Rabbit: